Michigan State was awarded a share of the national championship in both 1965 and 1966.
Gene Washington said he was a “very, very close” friend of Thornhill, who died in 2006.
“Without his contribution, I don’t think we would’ve won those championships,” he said. “He was so difficult to block, and he was so strong.
“Even if he was knocked off his feet, he was so quick at getting back up again … and still making the tackle.”
Former NFL running back Clinton Jones, who was also one of the Black stars on those teams, said Thornhill was a dear friend.
“It was quite a shock for a lot of the guys coming from the South, coming north and being in an environment that’s totally opposite from the environment that they were raised [in],” Jones, 75, said in a phone interview from his California home. “Every week, I was trying to encourage him … to stick it out.”
Daugherty steered the Spartans from 1954-72.
Tom Shanahan, who wrote a book about the 1960s Michigan State teams called “Raye of Light,” told The Chicago Tribune in 2015 that Daugherty recruited 44 Black players from the South to Michigan State during his time at the school.
The 1966 team had 20 Black players — an unprecedented number at that time. Eleven were starters.
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